Know What You Believe by Paul Little Chapter 2 God. p. 34 What we believe about God is the most important thing about us. A.W.

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1 1 Know What You Believe by Paul Little Chapter 2 God p. 34 What we believe about God is the most important thing about us. A.W. Tozer Our belief or pack of it translates itself into our attitudes, actions, and our view of the world. It is interesting to construct the kind of God the Old Testament character Joseph believed in based on his reactions to his traitorous brothers followed by an unjust imprisonment by an official. In the end he looked back at his brothers and concluded: Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. (Genesis 50:19-20). (Little p. 34) [ And the kind of God we believe in could be constructed by others based on our responses to the events of our lives. By our responses we are daily proclaiming to our children, to our co-workers, to the world around us the kind of God that we believe in. And we are proclaiming it to God Himself.] The word God is one of the most widely-used terms in our language, yet it is nebulous and undefined in most minds. p. 35 Our broadly secular world makes it easy for us to use the word God and resist trying to define Him, often for the sake of avoiding division. Think for a moment. If God is, His existence and what He is like do not depend in any way on what anyone thinks about Him. If we are really interested in reality, we will want to know what God is really like. When we explore God through His general and special revelation, we build our own personal foundation and information bank. Our personal concept of God is worthless unless it is coherent and coincides with His selfrevelation. To know God exists is only the beginning. To understand His nature is of supreme importance. And this happens not by studying a list of His attributes but through shared experience. The terms that describe God are known as His attributes. They are classified as natural and moral.

2 2 pp God s Natural Attributes: God is: Transcendent, God is transcendent, excels above all. He is separate from His creation above and beyond it. He is self-existing and is the source of all life. He is not a slave to natural law. He authored it but is independent of it and above it. He can override it at will though normally He does not interfere with it. He is exalted and eternal the world s Creator, Sovereign and Judge. God is not so totally transcendent that He set the universe in motion and then left it, like winding a clock and letting it wind down. (This is generally what deists believe). God is Immanent, near, as well as transcendent. His presence and power pervade His entire creation. He is not a mere spectator of the things He has made. But He is not so is near that He is indistinguishable from the universe. Pantheism holds that Gods is all and that all is God. But that would mean that you and I are a part of God, which we are not, and that God sins when we sin, which of course He does not. Omnipotent, all-powerful. The Bible tells us the universe God has made speaks of His eternal power (omnipotence) and deity (Romans 1:19-20). The omnipotence of God has intrinsic limitations, self-imposed, as it were. He is intentionally limited by His moral character. For example, though nothing is impossible with God, Hebrews 56:18 tells us it is impossible for God to lie. God is Omnipresent, in all places at all times. He is fully present everywhere. He is not like a substance spread out in a thin layer all over the earth. He is a being. And all of Him is within each one of us His power, His knowledge and all His other characteristics. Wherever you go throughout your day, He is there with you. God is Omniscient, knows everything, including our actions and thoughts. David wrote, You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:2. The apostle John wrote, He did not need man s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man (John 2:25); Isaiah quoted God directly saying, I am God, and three is not other, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10). Nothing surprises God. Eternal, timeless. He never had a beginning and will never have an end. To the common question Who created God? the answer is No one and nothing. There was never a time when He did not exist. God s existence preceded time as we know it, and He created time. God is Infinite, unlimited. He is not limited to or confined by the universe He created. He is

3 3 independent of finite things and beings, even time and space. God has, however, chosen to put limitations on himself on some occasions. For instance, He appeared to Old Testament believers in the form of an angel or a man (see Genesis 18:1). He also became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. In his incarnation he imposed voluntary limits on himself in order to bless His creation and accomplish his purposes, not because He had to. He has not limitations in His character attributes. In His holiness, for example, He has not limitations and no defects. The same may be true of His other qualities. His power (omnipotence) is at work and in control of everything, anywhere, that exists. Unchangeable, does not vary. Unlike human beings, He is not volatile or capricious. His love is steadfast and constant, and is not subject to the ebb and flow of human love. His attitude is a fixed attitude, without the fits of temper we display when something displeases us. He is unchangeably against injustice, cruelty and deceit. When He seems to be different it might be because we have changed and in so doing have come into a different relationship to Him. The Bible speaks of God as changing His mind and having compassion in the story of Jonah. These terms describe what seems to us as God s change. God himself had not changed; the people repented. p. 40 God is Personal We have saved for last the fact about God that is of greatest importance. God is Personal, He is a person. He is all-wise, infinite, eternal and changeless. We are not to think of Him as an impersonal force behind the universe. God is spirit yet has all the elements of personality intellect, feelings, and will. He acts according to His own purpose and will and character. We know this of God because He created people in His own image and after His own likeness. (Genesis 1:26). Since we are persons, God cannot possibly be something less than a person. What is created cannot be of a higher order than its Creator. Because God is personal, we know that His sovereign will is not akin to blind fate ( kismet ) of Islam s Allah. It is rather the loving purpose of a Heavenly Father to whom His children are precious. And because God is a person and we are persons, communication between Him and us is possible. Although God is a spirit, without a physical body, He is nonetheless real. Our spirits can communicate with His Spirit. Jesus declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

4 4 pp God s Moral Attributes To know God exists is only the beginning. To understand His moral nature is of supreme importance. God is: Holy. Holiness is the sum total of the perfection of God, perhaps the most comprehensive of all God s attributes. It is a term for the moral excellence of God and His freedom from all limitations to His moral perfection. In this exalted sense only God is holy. [His] eyes are too pure to look on evil. (Habakkuk 1:13). In this exalted sense only God is holy. He is therefore the standard of ethical purity by which His creatures are measured. All He does is good; in every act He is free from all imperfection. He cannot be tempted with evil. We can clearly see God s absolute perfection and His abhorrence of evil through His persistent reaching out to His people and rescuing all who will come to Him. p. 42 Since holiness embraces every distinctive attribute of the Godhead, it may be defined as the outshining of all that God is. In God s self-manifestation, all the attributes of God come together and blend into holiness. Holiness has, for that reason, been called the attribute of attributes that which lends unity to all the attributes of God. God is Loving. His love is divine, a perfect love. God s love is displayed in all His works from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. We see God s love from the creation of the world all the way to the climax of His Son dying on the cross. His love takes concrete action. His acts of creating the world and the human race were born of love. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). Can God hear a hundred million prayers at one time? God has infinite attention to spare for each of us. He does not deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He ever created. C. S. Lewis. p. 43 God is love was ultimately expressed and personified in Jesus three-year ministry. His countless acts of compassion for the sick, his acceptance of the sinner, his grief-stricken attitude toward human disobedience, showed His love in action. He reached out to become a friend to outcasts. He held little children in His arms.

5 5 p.43 Love and Holiness God s love and mercy are not opposed to or exercised at the expense of his righteousness and holiness. For the beginning to end of His revelation in Scripture, God is seen reaching out, undergirding with His everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27). The promise of a Redeemer, the covenant with Israel and the final giving of eternal life through the cross were all motivated by His love and mercy. Some people wrongly suggest the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and anger, while the New Testament portrays God in Christ love and gentleness. The implication is that there two different Gods. This, of course, is completely false. Jesus spoke frequently of hell and eternal judgment and is the same God who moved in judgment on Jerusalem in 586 BC. Love and justice are knit together p. 44 Our Triune God At the heart of the Christian new of God is the concept of the Trinity. This truth is central to an understanding of biblical revelation and the Christian gospel. The word Trinity does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but the fact is inescapable. The Trinity is a difficult concept. It involves conceptions our finite mental powers cannot easily grasp. It is a teaching that God Himself has revealed to us. God is one being, but He exists in three persons. God is one in His essential being, but the divine essence exists in three modes or forms, each constituting a Person, yet in such a way that the divine essence is wholly in each Person. There are no differences in deity, attributes, or essential nature between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology p. 250 ) The persons of the Trinity have different primary functions in relating to the world. (Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology p. 248 ) p. 45 (Little) The plural is evident from the beginning of Genesis: Let us make man in our image. (Gen 1:26.) If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23) pp We must not allow the scriptural truth of the Trinity to deprive us of the equally important teaching that there is only one God. The Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are one.

6 6 p. 46 In the New Testament the distinctness of the persons of the Godhead is made clearer Jesus explicitly spoke of the Father and the Spirit as being distinct persons from Himself. (John 14-16). Salvation itself portrays the work of the triune God. The Father sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption. The Son sent the Spirit to bring conviction and to apply to people s hearts what Christ had accomplished. p. 47 Each person of the Trinity is fully God. Peter told Ananias that in lying to the Holy Spirit he had not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:4). The deity of the Holy Spirit is clear. p. 47 A Semantic Problem Part of the problem of understanding the Trinity is the inadequacy of human words to express divine reality. For instance, we speak of the persons of the Godhead. We use this term because it describes a being who has intellect, emotion, and will. But we must be careful in applying such a term to God. Three persons is an imperfect term suggesting three separate moral and rational individuals. There are not three individuals but three personal self-distinctions within one divine essence. Person used in human terms implies independence, not oneness of will, actions and feelings, as is true of the Trinity. The divine Trinity is one self-conscious, self-directing being, yet no part ever acts independently or in opposition to the others. God is a unity; his life is not split into three. He is one in essence, personality and will. It is important to understand the relationships of the persons of the Trinity. The Son and Spirit are said to be subordinate to the Father, but this does not mean they are inferior. Their subordination has been called a matter of relationship but not nature. p. 48 Subordinate not Inferior The Father, the fount of deity, originates The Son, eternally begotten of the Father, reveals The Spirit, eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, executes Creation is: from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit

7 7 The Spirit of God is said to proceed from the Son as well as from the Father. The Father is the One by whom the Son is begotten and from whom the Spirit proceeds. p. 48 Two Major Heresies about the Trinity One distortion is that there are not three separate and distinct persons in the Godhead. But instead that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are merely different manifestations of the one God. He assumes these manifestations temporarily to achieve His purposes. (originated by Sabellius in the third century A.D.) The second heresy (originated about 325 A.D. by Arius) was a point of view that so strongly stressed the persons of the Trinity that they ended up being divided. This view sees the Son and Holy Spirit as lesser, subordinate beings who the Father willed into existence as His agents. Unitarianism, Jehovah s Witnesses and Mormonism assign Jesus and the Holy Spirit a position and nature below that of true deity. This is one of the most important battlegrounds in the history of the church, and no true Christian should for one moment tolerate any descriptions of our Master other than that which assigns to Him fullest deity, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. T.C. Hammond p. 49 God s Will and Providence It is important that we know about God s providence and will if our knowledge of God is to be accurate. He is not only Creator of the universe and the Triune God, but He is also the physical Sustainer of His creation and the moral Governor of the intelligent beings He has created. The sweep of God s providence and sovereignty are complete and comprehensive. [The rulers] did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28) God is the one who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Eph. 1:11) p. 50 God s Eternal Plan God s control of the universe is often spoken of in terms of His decrees. By the decrees of God we mean the eternal plan by which God makes sure that all the events of the universe past, present, and future, take place. T.C. Hammond To our human minds, decrees and control convey some negative restrictive overtones. But when we see them as a part of the Creator s all-wise, loving plan, we see decrees and control in a different light. They become our safety.

8 8 With God there is no time as we know it. God exists totally apart from the universe and yet can be everywhere within it. Time (for the universe) has a beginning, God s existence and activity precede this created time. To God, everything happens in one eternal moment. From this vantage point we view in awe His wisdom and trustworthiness. p. 51 When we consider God s will, we must consider these truths: God s absolute decrees are always accomplished People may disobey God s purposes for His creatures (e.g. Adam in the Garden of Eden). We turn from His purposes when we choose to sin. God gave His decrees so that His creatures would have optimal life. We may ignore His purposes. He gives us that right. God has given us human creatures the dignity and the compliment of choice. C.S. Lewis. God s directive will is what He brings to pass. God s permissive will is what He allows to take place. (i.e. He permits us to disobey) God permitted but did not direct the entrance of sin into the world. But whether actively (by decree) or passively (by permission), God is sovereign over all that happens. God is free in that He is under no other influence or power of anything or anyone but himself. He is sovereign He has power to bring His divine decrees to success. What about Free Will? God is sovereign over all that happens. But then how can people be free agents? And therefore held morally responsible for their choices? The fact is, our will plays a limited role in anything that happens to us. That we direct events is something of an illusion. The idea of total freedom of will is itself something of a selfdeception. We do have freedom, but only within certain prescribed bounds. We are subject to limits imposed by our humanness, we are subject to the limits of the natural world, to time and space, etc. Certainly there are some aspects of our experience that we choose or influence, but perhaps less than we like to believe. God s foreknowledge is not in itself the cause of what happens. To say God knows what people are going to do does not mean He causes them to do it. Only that He knows what they will choose. His foreknowledge that someone will do something does not predispose them to or compel them to.

9 9 pp God your decisions before you make them. He knows what you will do and where you will go. But this foreknowledge does not interfere in the slightest with your complete freedom to act. p. 53 The sovereignty of God and human free will may appear on surface to be irreconcilable. Nevertheless, both exist. God causes all things that happen, but He does so in such a way that He somehow upholds our ability make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable. Exactly how God combines His providential control with our willing and significant choices, Scripture does not explain to us. (Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology pp ) p. 53 We may take comfort in the fact that divine sovereignty is exercised by a trustworthy, all-loving, all-knowing God. And His sovereignty in no way lessens our freedom or our privilege and responsibility to do His good will. Increased knowledge of Him brings out deep trust and unbridled worship at every turn of life. For the LORD your God is a God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome.... Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God Deuteronomy 10:17, 20-21

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